Tag: Hiking

Some of the Best Apps for Hiking – Plus How to Hike Without Your Phone

We’ve gotten to the point where it’s hard to imagine going anywhere without our phones. And it just so happens that there is a great crop of apps to enhance your experience outdoors.

But just so we’re clear on this, no app is going to take the place of basic woodcraft skills. Think about it – your battery could die. Your phone could die. You can be in a place where you get no signal. You need to know what to do when you can’t count on your phone.

Fortunately some of the best trail apps help you prepare for the worst.

Knowstartup rounds up 10 Apps that Every Hiker Shouldn’t Live Without. Along with tracking apps like Map My Hike, this list has first aid and safety apps such as the SAS Survival Guide.

Not on the Knowstartup list, and one of my favorite apps, is GAIA GPS, a mapping app that has offline navigation tools for areas with no cellular service.

If you’re planning a true wilderness hike by all means take a look at Knowstartup’s list. But also get familiar with some good old-fashioned map and compass skills.

Two Dozen Free/Cheap Things to Do in Los Angeles – Plus a Few

Santa Monica pier

Santa Monica pier at night | Photo: ™ Pacheco via Matador network

Los Angeles is such a sprawling place that you have to plan carefully how to explore. Matador Network serves up nearly two dozen free or cheap things to do in the city of Angels that give you a real taste of the city – arguably much more so than a trip to Universal Studios.

You might not think of Los Angeles as a place to take in nature but Matador’s list even serves up a few waterfalls:

22. Go chasing waterfalls.
Cost: Free + gas + parking

There isn’t a ton of flowing fresh water in L.A., but if you know where to look there are trails that lead the adventurer to some small (hey, we take what we can get around here!) cascades. Wear sturdy shoes, sun protection, and bring plenty of water when doing any hiking.

Waterfalls to visit:

Monrovia Falls: An easy 1.7-mile hike from Monrovia Canyon Park entrance station (in Monrovia).
Eaton Canyon Falls: About 1.8 miles from the parking lot at the trailhead in Altadena and a very popular hike. If you have fantasies of having the waterfall to yourself, think again! Expect crowds.
Santa Ynez Falls: Perhaps easiest accessed from the trail system emanating from Topanga State Park. It’s about a 2.5-mile hike to the falls from the TSP parking lot.

To Matador’s list I’d add:

1) Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, everything you’ve ever seen in Core77 is on this street.(Check out the canals while you’re there.)
2) Central Library in Los Angeles – The Mother Lode of Art Deco
3) The Getty Museum – There are actually two Getty museums, Getty Center and Getty Villa. Both are free but you’ll need to pay for parking and at the Villa you need to make reservations.

The secret to enjoying Los Angeles is to visit neighborhoods that are close together – and avoid the 10 freeway if you can.

Trail Notes: Mount Cleff Ridge Wildwood Park

White Tailed Kite Eating a Mouse

White-tailed Kites are fairly common around here. You often see them hunting in freeway medians. They have a characteristic way of hovering in one spot like…well, like a kite. I saw this fellow hovering at the base of the Mount Cleff Ridge in Wildwood Park. Slowly, deliberately the kite dropped ten feet, fifteen, feet, and then to the ground. It was a gentle glide, not the fierce high-speed descent of a Peregrine.

Highlights: The Santa Rosa Trail loop that I took was just shy of five miles. The most notable feature in the park is a craggy ridge of conglomerate mineral deposits. You expect a war party of wild Comanches to leap out at any minute. This should not surprise–Gunsmoke, Wagon Train and The Rifleman were all filmed here. There is an elevation gain of 400 ft, a little bit of a stiff climb at the beginning. The ground is very rocky and uneven, a challenge to mountain bikers and people with weak ankles. Mount Cleff Ridge Conglomerate

One other notable thing about this trail. Once you get on top of the ridge there just isn’t any place to pee. Large two-million dollar homes overlook much of the trail along the back side of the ridge and there just isn’t much tree cover. This something the wild Comanches never had to worry about–or maybe it’s what drove them wild in the first place.

The geology changes slightly on the eastern part of Lower Butte Trail. To me it looks something like the burren region in Ireland. This explains how Wuthering Heights could be filmed at the location as Gunsmoke.

To get there: From the 101 take Lynn Rd north to Avenida de los Arboles, turn left and continue to the end. Click here for a Google Map.

Mount Cleff Ridge Trail

Originally posted March 27, 2007

10 Must-See Bay Area Outdoor Spots from SF Gate

Photo: Photo: Michael Furniss, Courtesy SF Gate

Photo: Michael Furniss, Courtesy SF Gate

  1. Tahoe, Heavenly’s Skyline Trail
  2. Santa Cruz Mountains, Silver Falls/Golden Cascade
  3. North Sierra foothills, Feather Falls
  4. Marin, Sky Trail
  5. Fern Canyon, Prairie Creek Redwoods
  6. Wildcat hilltop via Tilden in the East Bay Hills
  7. San Pedro Ridge
  8. Pardee Lake

The article includes photos, descriptions, phone numbers and web links for all locations.

You could also add to the list some closer-to-home Bay-Area locations like Stinson Beach,  Ohlone Wilderness trail, and Robert Louis Stevenson State Park.

Ventura County Day Hike – Sisar Canyon

Topa Topa from Sisar Canyon

The Topatopa bluffs run from West to East, serving as a gigantic reflector for the Ojai valley. They are a numinous presence in much of the surrounding county. I can see them from my house. This weekend, however, is the first time I’ve hiked anywhere close to them.

To hike the Sisar Canyon trail you take Highway 150 from Santa Paul (or Ojai if your so inclined) and turn North on Sisar Road. Travel up the road a mile or so, continue bearing right where the asphalt ends. You’ll come to a gate.

Sisar Road gate

The first three and a half miles are well-traveled road. There are two water crossings in the first mile or two, an easy rock-hop to get across. I was a little surprised to meet a man driving a late model Subaru down the hill, but there is a residence a few miles back.

The road is popular with mountain bikers and equestrians, so keep your eyes and ears open on the blind curves. It’s a two mile hike to the overlook that commands a view of the Oxnard plain on one hand, and Topa Topa on the other. Another mile and a half you come to the head of Trail 21W08 which goes up to Sespe Creek. The sign is shot up and naked of paint, but you can read the raised lettering to see that Sespe is some 13 miles beyond. Closer is White Ledge Camp, a shady campsite with firebox. The trail to White Ledge is a long half mile. It looked to me like a trail crew had been this way just a few days earlier. Branches were trimmed and the path was smooth and level with some fresh trenches for runoff. There are a few narrow spots, not a place I’d want to go on horseback, especially not after a heavy rain. But it was clear that someone had done just that–hoofprints sunk deep in the trail near some very steep drop-offs.

At one spot there is a huge slag heap of rosey sandstone. It looks as if someone had been quarrying the area. I’d be interested to know what cause this, it certainly looks man-made.

All in all the hike from the gate to White Ledge is an eight mile round trip.
Trail to White Ledge Camp

Addendum: Sometimes you’ll find this hike by searching for Topa Topa Mountain. On maps it is listed as Topatopa Mountain. It’s a little confusing, seeing that place names in Ojai are listed as Topa Topa.

Originally published March 7, 2007

Agoura Hills Day Hike – Liberty Canyon to Cheseboro Canyon

cheseborocanyon

This year’s late winter rains make this Spring a perfect time to get out into the Santa Monica mountains for some hiking. This particular track starts at Canwood Street just off the 101 Freeway at Liberty Canyon Road. It’s an easy hike over a spur trail out of Liberty Canyon through a shady oak grove and on to Cheseboro Canyon where the trail gets quite wide and flat. If you’re planning on biking then be advised that this first leg gets pretty narrow and there’s a short steepish section with loose scree.

There is enough parking for two or three cars at the trailhead. If this is full you can park in the shade under the freeway or drive a few miles back into Cheseboro Canyon and park at the Modelo Trail parking.

The highlights of this particular hike are the large groves of Valley Oak that provide plenty of shade along the way. This season’s wildflowers are sprinkled all about the hills. At about two miles you come to the 1890s Morrison ranch house with the remains of a cattle stockyard. Continue heading North, there’s no reason to take the road to your right unless you want to explore the coyote track that doubles back to Liberty Canyon.

morrisonranch

When you get about a quarter mile past the ranch there are numerous side trails. I prefer to stay in the canyon because the ridge trails are steep and not particularly scenic. I did a 6.7 out-and-back but the trails up Cheseboro Canyon keep going on and on.

Pack a lunch and a blanket and this would be a great place for a picnic/hike.

More details at Gaia GPS.

Hike to Two Trees

Two Trees

Two Trees, Ventura’s favorite spot for vandalism, is a quick but stiff hike with an amazing panoramic view at the top. This hike is on private property and foot traffic is not allowed.

Perched on rolling hills like twin sentinels over the town, these trees have become an icon for the preservation of nature and open space. But the truth is that Two Trees aren’t natural at all. They are blue gum trees (eucalyptus globulus) imported from Australia. Thirteen of these trees were planted at the request of property owner Joseph Sexton in 1898. Sexton, who resided in Goleta, thought of California as a kind of empty canvas that needed to be filled with exotic plants from other countries. He is perhaps best known for introducing Evil Pampas Grass to the state.

One Tree

In 1903 a brush fire destroyed eight of Sexton’s trees. This fire also set off a gas flare from a hidden natural oil deposit that killed Ralph Lloyd’s horse and touched off Ventura’s oil boom.

Five trees remained at the top of the hill until 1940 when a few Halloween pranksters hacked down three of the trees. Marcel “Slim” Sap, owner of the local Motor Mart and vigorous civic booster, replanted the three deceased trees and all was well until 1956 when football hooligans cut down one of the orginal trees and two of the replacements.

Even though Two Trees is on private land, a lot of Venturans seem to feel the landmark is part of the public trust. And others still see it as a blank canvas–to be painted with spray cans and fat black markers. Pen knives. Nails. Glass. And in one case I’d guess a hatchet was taken to the bark to carve “Blake + Lindson.”

A friend confessed to me today that she, too, tried to leave her mark on this spot. She and her best friend in high school struggled up the steep hillside dragging a trash bag containing a douglas fir and thirty pounds of soil, along with two shovels and a flashlight. In a sweaty fit of midnight skulduggery they planted the fir between the two gum trees.

And that’s the story of how Two Trees almost became Three Trees.

Previously published November 20, 2006

Two Trees with Paint

Top 20 Best Places to Camp in California

Wild Willy's Hot Spring | Photo by Greg Balkin

Wild Willy’s Hot Spring | Photo by Greg Balkin

The Huffington Post lists their picks for must-do adventures in California. There are some great spots on the list, even if it is a little heavy on campsites and hot springs.

I’m a little surprised to see Two Harbors on the list – I think I’d opt for camping on Anacapa Island instead. That said, my favorite thing to do in Two Harbors is go through the sea cave. BONUS TIP – sing the Pirates of the Caribbean theme song in your best pirate voice when you go in the cave. Watch for tides and be advised that in the afternoon you’ll likely be fighting the wind and current on the way back home.

[Photo: Greg Balkin]

Looking for Some Outdoor Adventure? Check Pinterest for Best Places to Hike

Hiking on Pinterest

When I think of Pinterest I think about knitting. It wouldn’t be my go-to-destination for planning my next big adventure.

And I’d be wrong – check out these pinboards listing the best hiking trails in the world.

While you’re at it, check out the boards for outdoor gear, camping trailers, canyoneering and bushcraft.

If these pins don’t make you want to hit the ol’ dusty I don’t know what will.

Topa Topa Is My Everest

Lesson to be learned – one shouldn’t go from zero adventure to 8 on the strenuous meter in a single day. I’ve always wanted to hike to the top of the TopaTopa bluffs because, you know, they are there. So when Jeff put out the invite and said the trail was 10 miles (which I interpreted as roundtrip, not each way) I jumped at the chance.

Really I knew better, having read the write-up on Homer’s Travels.

The hike in was 6.8 miles with a 1735 ft. gain in elevation. There was rain and I couldn’t remember if my pack had a rainfly so I used my anorak to guard the pack and got soaked to the skin. We camped by some boulders at Chief Peak. We had more rain, freezing wind and our tents were iced.

There were snow flurries in the morning but the rest of the day was clear. 16.7 miles, 2014 ft. ascent, 3573 ft. descent. Got to the point where the smallest incline had me gasping for breath – like Hillary near the peak of Everest. And near the peak is as close as I got, lagging behind Jeff and Kevin who summited.

The hike back was a death march. Not sure how I made it. Feet were ground skinless by my overly stiff Vasque boots.

I wouldn’t do it again for the world – not without being in better shape. But it was worth doing this once.

How to Avoid Blood-Sucking Vermin (Ticks, Not Lawyers)

If you hike then sooner or later you will have to deal with ticks. These cunning relatives of the spider wait on the ends of leaves and grasses for an unsuspecting mammal to brush past and then climb aboard for a free lunch.

Alicia MacKleay provides a comprehensive guide to dealing with ticks on and off the trail, including ways to tick-proof your clothing.

There are also a number of natural tick repellents you might try, although the most promising, nootkatone, won’t be commercially available for a few years.

A careful tick-survey of your clothing and body is your best bet after each hike. Otherwise you could wind up bringing them into your house where they can sneak-attack your family and friends.

I’ve never had a tick on myself, but my dogs and my sister have. Folklore states that the best way to remove a tick is to encourage it to leave voluntarily, either smothering it with oil or burning it with a match. Both these methods, it turns out, are terrible. They don’t work and they can cause the critter to “barf” its stomach contents into your bloodstream. Ick.

We also were once instructed to remove a tick by twisting it in a counterclockwise direction. It worked like magic. Or was that clockwise?

Twisting might work but it also might leave the tick’s head embedded in the skin where it can fester. The recommended way to remove a tick is to grab it very close to the skin and pull straight back. See Bug Girl’s suggestions for the correct approach to removing a tick. It’s a good idea to carry tweezers or a tick remover every time you hit the trail.

Image By André Karwath aka Aka (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Hike of the Week – Peter Strauss Ranch

Peter Strauss Ranch

Ranch House at Peter Strauss Ranch

Peter Strauss Ranch is a great place to explore, picnic and introduce kids to hiking. The 0.6 mile Peter Strauss Trail is one of the best places in the Santa Monica Mountains to hike with children who are at that awkward age – too big to lug in a backpack carrier but not quite ready for a march to Bataan. The trail is shady, well maintained and an easy hike. There is ample evidence of wildlife on the property but a peacock is the fiercest animal you’re likely to encounter. The grounds are peaceful but on a nice day you’ll have to put up with the constant thrum of motorcycles on Mulholland.

For more ambitious hikers and explorers there is a connector to Malibu Lake and from there you can head over to Paramount Ranch or to the Malibu Creek area.

One of the nice things about using Strauss ranch as your trailhead is that the parking lot is a mere stumble from The Old Place, a colorful and historic watering hole. Boutique prices but the food is good and the atmosphere is intriguing.

Directions:

30000 Mulholland Highway, Agoura Hills, CA, 91301

Take the Ventura Freeway (U.S. 101) to Kanan Road exit. South on Kanan Road 2.8 miles. Turn left on Troutdale Drive to Mulholland Highway. Left on Mulholland Highway 400 feet then right into the parking lot.

More photos of the area at Geek Hiker.

Peter Strauss Trail

Peter Strauss Trail is shady, well-kept

Hike of the Week – Cheseboro Canyon

One of five coyotes in a pack at Cheseboro Canyon

This week’s hike was four easy miles, out and back, in Cheseboro Canyon. One of the highlights was an encounter with a pack of five young coyotes, as you might be able to see in the grainy enlarged iPhone snap above. These coyotes are extremely well fed this year, judging from the quantity of furry scat along the trails.

I’ve blogged about Cheseboro Canyon before. The main trails are broad and flat. Sometimes people ask me where to hike with young children. Cheeseboro Canyon is a great place to hike with kids, provided you keep an eye open for fast moving moutain bikers.

This year there is considerable growth in vegetation in the area, meaning long pants beat hiking shorts if you want to protect yourself from ticks and foxtails on the side trails. The trails are well marked but if you don’t have a map in hand it’s easy to take a loop you weren’t counting on – as Bruce will tell you on Homer’s Travels.

Ventura County Trails has a good overview of hiking and mountain biking trails in Cheseboro Canyon. The guides are oriented to cyclists but it’s a good place to start if you want to explore a pocket wilderness that’s freeway-close.

Vibram Five Fingers KSO Trek Review: Running in My “Bear” Feet

Vibram Five Fingers KSO Trek

I’ve been running in Vibram Five Fingers off and on for three years now and they are not the miracle shoes that some would have you believe. For one thing, you won’t win any fashion awards. My college-age daughter won’t be seen with my in public when I’m wearing my Five Fingers. And for another thing, they may not cure everything that ails you. When I finish running I still feel like I’ve been run over by a bulldozer. My knees still hurt – just not as much or for as long as when I’m wearing regular running shoes.

The bottom line is that after three years of use my Classics are starting to wear out and I liked them well enough to cash in my REI dividend and upgrade to a pair of KSO Treks. Here are my first impressions.

Fit and Sizing

I followed Vibram’s sizing recommendations and got size 45 – the same size as my Classics, which are a little too snug. To be clear about this, the KSOs run a little large and a 45 in Treks are like a 46 in Classics.

Because the footbed of Five Fingers cup the heel and toes, these shoes won’t “give” with use. For hiking and running it’s probably better to opt for a little loose rather than a little tight if you’re between sizes.

First Run: On the Dusty Road

The KSOs have a thicker sole and this makes a huge difference on the gravelly trails where I do most of my running. There’s still a chunk of ouch! when you step the wrong way on a stone, but it’s far sight better than the thin soles of the Classics.

Keeping Stuff Out

On their “maiden” run the KSOs lived up to their name – the high cut, firm closure and kangaroo leather uppers really did Keep Stuff Out. The Classics, with their “ballet style” cut and stretchy fabric always ingested a certain amount of dirt. Running in the sand was a good way to grind holes in your feet in a hurry.

Support

I have flat feet and at times tape my arches. The way the KSOs strap up they seem to give a decent amount of arch support.

This is a first impression. So far I’ve put the KSOs through a few miles of trail and a game of Night Ultimate Frisbee, and so far so good. These lightweight runners give you the “barefoot” experience without the pain and suffering of actually going barefoot. The quality and workmanship are excellent.

Order them online from REI:

Project Trail Dog: Kentucky Fried Hands

It smarts worse than it looks

I guess I didn’t think this through all the way. When a 75 lb. dog hits the end of a 50 foot yellow plastic rope at a full flat-out run, guess what happens? The force of the jerk knocks him off his feet and he tumbles in the grass. This isn’t as bad as it sounds…fortunately I had enough foresight to clip the lead to his harness and not his collar. The result reinforces a natural consequence. I yell “halt!” and if the dog doesn’t halt he’s going to go for a tumble.

No, the bad thing is what happens on the other end of the rope – the end I’m holding with my bare hands. About two feet of rough plastic rope played through my fingers so fast I could smell the flesh burn. And because I didn’t my dog attacking the Schnauzer that entered his field of vision I didn’t dare let go. So that last jerk, the accelerated force of a muscle-bound moose of a dog, was a real screamer.

But I guess we both learned our lesson. Mr. Moose learned pretty quickly to listen to me whenever the sight of a dog made him go flipping berserk. And I learned that I need a decent pair of roping gloves.